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House Committee Funding Resolution Put on Hold

The biennial committee funding resolution was pulled from the suspension calendar Wednesday afternoon after it had passed the House Administration Committee unanimously the day before.

Several well-placed sources said Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) objected to his panel’s funding levels and the leadership decided to hold off on the measure for at least another day. The continuing resolution adopted to fund the panels until the measure for the 108th is worked out expires Friday.

Only five committees out of 19 received a bigger increase over last Congress’ allotments than Ways and Means, which was set to get $1.2 million, or 8.3 percent, more than in the 107th.

Thomas’ office declined to comment.

The House Administration Committee — which Thomas chaired through the 106th Congress — unanimously voted out the measure Tuesday with such gregarious spirit that every member took an opportunity to praise the effort.

The resolution represented a $30.1 million increase in funds for the panels, including almost $11 million for the Homeland Security Committee, which was handled separately. Not including the new panel, the funding resolution represents a 9.4 percent increase over the 107th, and divided over two years comes close to the 4 percent discretionary spending increase President Bush requested.

Excluding Homeland Security, the committee funding level for the 108th is still lower than the 103rd in both constant and actual dollars. Because of the drastic cuts in the 104th, panel resources adjusted for inflation are still $62 million less than they were a decade ago.

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney’s (R-Ohio) mark significantly pared down the committees’ individual requests for the 108th. If adopted without revision, the 20 panels would have collectively received almost $50 million (including Homeland Security) more than last Congress. The resolution put forth Tuesday by Ney and ranking member John Larson (D-Conn.) reduced that amount by $19 million.

“I am proud of the numbers we are putting forward with this mark,” Ney told the committee.

Tuesday’s markup was the second time in as many Congresses that the committee funding resolution was approved with a bipartisan vote, which Ney said was attributable to the “character and integrity” of the panel members.

In past Congresses, including under Thomas’ gavel, the funding resolution was used largely as a partisan vehicle to undermine the minority, giving the out-of-power party significantly less than the one-third they are given today. Ney and Larson’s cooperation and the chairman’s commitment to maintain the two-thirds, one-third ration instituted in the 107th Congress goes far in explaining the virtual lovefest at this week’s markup.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) expressed hope that if the situation was reversed, Democrats would continue the bipartisan nature of the resolution. “I don’t anticipate the Republicans ever losing the majority,” he said, but just in case he asked the ranking member to go on record supporting the 33 percent minority funding.

“I absolutely will go on record as stating that,” Larson said to laugher, quickly adding that he supported only the ratios and not the notion that the GOP would forever hold its grip on the chamber.

“Maybe we can take this feeling to the floor,” Ney said wistfully after the banter.

The congenial markup didn’t mean, however, that Ney and Larson faced easy decisions on the panels’ allotments.

Only three panels — Budget, Intelligence and Rules — received 100 percent of their requests. All had requested under $1 million more than the 107th Congress.

In dollar terms, Transportation and Infrastructure, International Relations, Resources and Financial Services received the largest boosts, all hovering just under the $2 million mark over last Congress.

Also receiving increases over $1 million were, in descending order, Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, House Administration, Education and the Workforce, Science and Armed Services.

In percentage terms, the two committees that sought the biggest increases were House Administration and Financial Services, and the latter also asked for the largest increase request in raw dollars.

Government Reform and Energy and Commerce have the biggest budgets of House committees, at $19.6 million and $18.6 million, respectively.

During testimony for his panel’s budget, Financial Services Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) noted that as the House’s second-largest committee, his committee lags behind most in terms of resources per Member.

“Fewer resources mean fewer staff, and a reduced ability to serve the Members. Committees are ultimately Member-service organizations, but without the proper resources, it becomes difficult for us to fulfill our mission,” Oxley said in March.

He also defended his request of $5 million more than the last Congress — more than any other panel by almost $2 million — by arguing that his committee never caught up in terms of resources to the additional responsibilities it took on when it evolved from the Banking Committee. Additionally, he said the panel lacks senior staff in key areas in part because of the significant competition from the private sector.

Financial Services received only 36 percent of its requested increase, a reduction of the request by $3.3 million.

Per tradition, the Appropriations Committee funds the budgets as decided by the House Administration panel without change. Likewise, Appropriations writes and funds its own budget and is not subject to House Administration’s oversight.

Two categories in which committees requested monies were addressed separately from the regular funding process so as, in Ney’s words, not to distort and inflate the committees’ budgets with special, institutional needs.

The first is the ongoing project to upgrade hearing rooms, which Ney described as “in desperate need of refurbishing, most not having seen an upgrade in decades.” The remodeling includes aesthetic changes as well as significant technological improvements.

The second was committee requests for disaster recovery equipment.

“The cost for providing a mechanism that gives committees an alternate offsite storage site for data in the event of a debilitating or catastrophic event should be born by the House and not by committees individually,” Ney said. “Further, providing an enterprise solution for offsite data storage ensures that a common standard will be applied for the equipment purchased and used to back-up storage for committee data.” (See related story.)

Also at the markup, the House Administration Committee unanimously passed franked mail allocations for the committees. Ehlers used discussion of that resolution as an opportunity to ask the committee to reconsider the franking regulations as they pertain to e-mail. “I think it’s simply inappropriate to treat the two in the same way,” he said. Larson agreed, calling it a “salient issue,” and Ney told the panel that the committee was already taking another look at the guidelines, which prohibit Members’ offices from sending unsolicited mail 90 days before an election.

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